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Article

Lawrence H. Schiffman

The Cairo geniza was a storeroom for no longer usable holy books in the synagogue of Fustat, Old Cairo, where for centuries, old Jewish manuscripts, mostly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo- Arabic, including also secular documents and communal records, were deposited. In the 19th century, European scholars became aware of this collection and manuscripts were removed to a variety of libraries in Europe and the United States. This material provides those studying the ancient world and ancient Jewish texts in particular with an amazing treasure of documents, throwing light on the history of the biblical text and its interpretation, the Hebrew language, Greek and Syriac versions of the Bible, Second Temple and Rabbinic literature, Jewish liturgy and the later history—political, economic, and religious—of the Jews in the Mediterranean basin. This material has totally reshaped our understanding of these fields. In the area of Bible, these texts illustrate the manner in which the vocalization and cantillation symbols were developed. Hebrew versions of some important Second Temple literature, later found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, had earlier been discovered in the geniza. Many previously unknown Midrashim and rabbinic exegetical materials have become known only from this collection. This material has provided an entirely new corpus of liturgical poetry.

Article

Gregory D. Wiebe

The background of early Christian demonology was in both Hebrew and Greek culture. Jews associated the Greek word daimōn with the false gods of the surrounding nations. This was in many ways an intuitive application of the Greek term. It carried the sense of ambivalent divine or semi-divine power, which significant philosophical traditions understood to mediate between humans and gods. The New Testament carries this theme, though its focus is more on Christ’s exorcisms of demons, and his gift of that power to his disciples, with the early church tying the two together in the theological literature, as well as baptismal exorcisms and renunciations of the devil and idolatry.Demons were widely thought to have aerial bodies, which allowed them to perform various marvels, like foretelling the future. They were ultimately taken to be fallen angels with Satan as their leader, though this was not a given early in the tradition. While the Christian understanding was that Christ had defeated them on the cross, this was not taken to preclude the ongoing influence of demons in human affairs prior to the final judgement. Indeed, they constituted a significant moral problem for the Christian life, which absolutely opposed them. For Christians, Christ and the demons were the two sides of the fundamental dilemma of every human soul. The problem of demons manifested differently depending on the context, whether in its encounter with false religion, from idolatry to the persecutions the gods inspired; or in the innumerable tempting thoughts encountered in the pursuit of ascetic discipline.

Article

Blossom Stefaniw

Didymus the Blind (c. 313—c. 398) was a textual scholar and ascetic practitioner. He is not associated with any of the major ascetic settlements around Alexandria and appears to have spent his entire life in or near the city. He is most known for his treatises On the Holy Spirit and On the Trinity (although the authorship of the latter is disputed) and for his biblical commentaries.Although the Council of Nicaea in 325 took place when Didymus was still a schoolboy, controversy and competition by the parties involved continued through Didymus’ lifetime. Didymus himself supported the decision of the Council, which the Alexandrian bishop, Athanasius, had promoted. After Didymus’ death, however, he was no longer associated with the orthodoxy of the day and, because of his reception of Origen of Alexandria, was condemned, along with Origen and Evagrius Ponticus, in connection with the 2nd Council of Constantinople in 553.

Article

Blossom Stefaniw

The literary tradition portrays Arsenius as a particularly stringent and austere man who was formed as a monk at Sketis, near Alexandria. It is probable that his reputation in his own day was much greater than the scope allowed him in the modern reception of the desert tradition, which tends to focus on other figures like Antony the Great. While we cannot independently verify his date of birth or death or his precise movements and deeds during his life, the traditional story of Arsenius remains important as a depository of key elements from the ascetic tradition, such as the relationships between different ethnic and social groups within ascetic communities, the abba and disciple system of ascetic formation, and teachings on compunction, pure prayer, and extreme austerities.Arsenius is believed to have been born to an aristocratic family in Rome around the year 354 and to have committed himself to an ascetic life as a young man. He moved to Constantinople in 383 and is said to have tutored the Emperor Theodosius’ sons (Arcadius and Honorius) while there.

Article

Blossom Stefaniw

A deacon, ascetic teacher, and prolific writer, Evagrius Ponticus lived from c. 345 to 399ce. Within some strands of late ancient Christianity, his teachings were no longer considered orthodox later in his life or after his death, although the Armenian and Syrian churches continued to cherish his writings. As a young man, Evagrius contributed to the doctrinal campaign of Gregory Nazianzus at the 1st Council of Constantinople in 381, a position which prevailed as orthodox at that time. Around 382, Evagrius left the capital and joined a monastic community in Jerusalem led by Rufinus of Aquileia and Melania the Elder, who were learned ascetics. In 383, while still in Jerusalem, Evagrius committed himself to asceticism and eventually travelled to Egypt. Until his death in 399, Evagrius studied and taught and wrote on the ascetic life, developing a meticulous taxonomy of evil thoughts, their origins, and the physical experiences associated with them. He arranged his works in an ascetic curriculum for the training of monks, monitored and counseled more junior monks in their practice, and provided handbooks on the ascetic practices or biblical texts which were best suited to neutralize specific evil thoughts.

Article

Richard Flower

The concept of orthodoxy denotes a central set of doctrines, often specified by a recognised authoritative body or set of individuals, to which any person must subscribe in order to be accepted by others as a fellow member of a religious community. Despite some possible precedents among ancient philosophers, the concept of orthodoxy developed in a distinct manner within Christianity in tandem with the notion of heresy, especially from the 2nd century onward. This involved defining an identity around certain core beliefs, alongside particular practices, apostolic traditions, and canonical texts, thereby gradually restricting the boundaries of theological speculation and acceptable difference of opinion. This was partly in response to disagreements with people who regarded themselves, or were most regarded by others, as forming part of the religious community, but also partly in response to criticisms from non-Christians. These arguments were, therefore, focused on the establishment of identity for a group through the establishment of boundaries, particularly in a context of a diversity of scattered Christian communities in which there was no recognised central authority to which adherents could appeal. Some of these earliest disputes were centred on the status of the Creator God and other cosmological issues, but also included Christological disagreements concerning Jesus Christ himself, which would go on to be the most prominent sources of controversy in the attempts to define orthodoxy during late antiquity.

Article

Chosroes II was one of the most important Sasanian rulers of Late Antiquity. After having prevailed with the help of Emperor Maurice in a civil war against the usurper Bahrām Čōbin, in 591 ce, the king attacked the Roman Empire after the fall of Maurice in 602. By 622, the Persians had conquered Syria and Egypt, but after the failure of the siege of Constantinople in 626, Chosroes, whose empire was attacked in the east by the Turks, was overthrown by dissatisfied aristocrats in 628. After his death, civil wars broke out that decisively weakened the Sasanian Empire in the wake of the Islamic conquests.Chosroes II “the Victorious” (M[iddle] P[ersian] Husrōy Abarwēz)—whose name occurs under the following spellings: Husraw, Khusro, Kisrā, and Khosroes—was the last great king of kings (šāhān šāh) of the Sasanian Empire and, together with the Roman emperor Heraclius and the Prophet Muhammad, one of the towering figures in the turbulent transitional period from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages. He was the grandson of Chosroes I Anōširvān (MP Husraw Anušuwān), with whom he often merged into a single figure in the traditions of the East. Born around .

Article

Christa Gray

Hagiography is a problematic yet widely used term with varying connotations; it resists narrow definition. Outside the hagiographa of the Hebrew Bible (i.e., the books other than the Law and the Prophets), the concept is based on a core of Christian Greek and Latin works, from the 2nd to 5th century ce, which range from martyr accounts to monastic and episcopal biographies. A significant factor motivating their composition and reception is the cult of saints. Biblical heroes, especially Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself are the primary models, but non-Christian literary traditions, especially biographical and novelistic, are also important influences.Coined originally to indicate a group of books of the Old Testament (cf. TLL s.v. (h)agiographus, VI.3.2513.22–29), since the 19th century the term hagiography has been used for writings associated with and promoting the cult of saints, and more particularly for the biographical literature on ascetics, which took its starting point from .

Article

What makes Alexander Great? His story has captured the imagination of authors, artists, philosophers, and politicians across more than two millennia. He has provided a point of convergence for religious and spiritual thinkers, he has been co-opted as a champion for gender and sexual openness, he represents a paradigm for would-be charismatic dictators (and their opponents), he gives us scientific imperialism and justification for conquistadorial dreaming, and he exemplifies the risks of cultural appropriation. To understand why Alexander resonates so widely across so many different fields of study, interest groups, and media, is an exercise in reception. This Alexander who has captured the imagination is triumphantly equivocal and it is in the plurality of traditions through which this complexity is expressed that his enduring “greatness” lies. The imaginary quality of Alexander is unsurprising because more profoundly than for any comparable individual from classical antiquity, his history is a product of reception from the start: every encounter with Alexander the Great is part of a conversation that depends substantially on accounts and narrative evidence from long after his death, and at the least at one remove from the historians who first and contemporaneously chronicled his life and achievements.

Article

Sofie Remijsen

Whereas chariot races gained popularity in late antiquity, athletics declined. Traditional agones, such as the Olympics, disappeared in the course of the 4th and 5th centuries ce. The traditional explanation, that they were abolished by Theodosius I, is no longer widely accepted, as the imperial policy clearly remained positive towards games. Changes to the administration of the cities, which administered the funds of these games, must have had a stronger effect, as did the rise of new, and in particular Christian, values. The drive to compete in the individual competitions typical of Greek athletics can be linked to the ambition to excel that was typical of the earlier political culture, but which was increasingly perceived as a vain pursuit and replaced by an ideal of humility. Not all forms of athletics disappeared, however, as the spread of circus games created new opportunities for the demonstration of spectacular feats by athletes.